How we made Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie


We met Michael Jacksons snake, made a film with Mr T, and were the first black band to be interviewed on MTV. It was a relief to get back to school

Dennis Seaton, singer

We were all still schoolkids in Birmingham when the band was formed. Patrick and Freddie “Junior” Waite’s dad was a reggae musician and he taught us how to play. He also sang on our first two songs, Political and Generals, but when the tracks were played by DJ John Peel, music industry people said: “You can’t have an old geezer singing if you’re called Musical Youth.” So I became the lead singer, aged 11. The chap who signed us to MCA told us the company laughed at him for signing schoolboys.

We played reggae hits and some of our own songs, mostly in West Indian working men’s clubs. When we played the Mighty Diamonds’ song Pass the Kouchie at Heaven in London while supporting Culture Club, 3,000 people went crazy. It was a song about a big marijuana bong, so the record company asked us to do something about the lyrics. We changed kouchie to dutchie, which is a West Indian cooking pot, and switched “How does it feel when you’ve got no herb?” to “got no food”. Kelvin Grant, who played guitar, added the rapping.

Watch the video for Pass the Dutchie

When we recorded the song, we couldn’t play it short enough for a seven-inch single, so the producer cut the tape and spliced it back together. Don Letts made a video of us by the Thames in which a truancy officer chases us, trying to get us into school.

The song went to No 1 and sold 5m copies worldwide. After it reached the top 10 in America, we went to Michael Jackson’s house. He had a chimp called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles, which slithered around his room. He told us Muscles, the track he wrote for Diana Ross, was about the snake. We made a film with Mr T in Hollywood and were the first black band to be interviewed on MTV. In a way, it was a relief to get back to school and restore some normality.

Because we were so young, we were only allowed to work 42 days a year, which scuppered our career. It took 18 years to see any money. I’m a health and safety professional now. I miss hanging out with my friends, but I’m proud that Michael Grant and I have kept playing. When we do 80s-themed festivals, I’m still the youngest performer there.

Musical Youth … clockwise from top left: Junior and Patrick Waite, Dennis Seaton, Michael and Kelvin Grant at Capital Radio, London, in 1982. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Michael Grant, keyboards

We were exposed to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll at the age of 13. We saw things like DJs putting their hands down women’s tops – they’d be sacked on the spot today. Not all of us succumbed to the various temptations, though. If you start taking drugs at that age, you’re not going to be around for long.

Patrick, our bass player, was a really quiet, lovely guy. You’d think butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Sadly, he ended up doing all sorts of craziness and died of a heart condition when he was 24. His brother Freddie, our drummer, couldn’t handle fame – nor the pressure when success stopped. He started having mental problems and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The last time I saw him, he asked me: “Where’s Patrick?” It broke my heart.

Patrick died broke and we’ve had court battles over Pass the Dutchie. We didn’t get songwriting credits, even though we’d changed the lyrics and the arrangement. Years later, the record company settled with us and we got some money. I don’t feel hard done by, though, as the highs outweighed the lows. I met Michael Jackson, Paul and Linda McCartney, James Brown, Prince and Donna Summer. We did things a kid could only dream of. At one point, I was jamming with Stevie Wonder in his Wonderland studio.

The stuff of dreams … Michael Grant with Michael Jackson at the 1983 Brit awards. Photograph: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

Back then, I was too young to buy cars or houses. All I wanted was a BMX Super Burner bike. When the record company dropped us, I asked the accountant: “Does this mean I’ll have to sell my bike?” He told me: “No. You can keep your bike.”

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